Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Root of Jesse... come

[This post is third in a series of Advent meditations, exploring the "O Antiphon" for each day as we walk the final steps toward the celebration of the incarnation on the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.]

Flower of Jesse's Stem,
sign of God's love for all his people:
save us without delay 

Have you ever seen a tree freshly chopped down, the stump fresh and moist with sap that was running only a moment before? It smells like life and death all together at once.

"O Root"
Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ
Or, perhaps, have you ever seen a very old stump, one that is all the remains from a tree that was chopped down or fell down years and years go? It is often covered with moss but sometimes growing out of it you can see a shoot, as though the tree refused to believe that it is dead and insists that life will continue no matter its condition.

A think that a shoot coming out of a stump is one of the most rebellious things in all of nature.

Two years in a row, I was sitting in my living room on Christmas morning when my wife and I got a phone call that someone we loved had died. Two years in a row. It changes how you see Christmas.

And though I'm only in my early thirties, I've already had experiences of really shaking my fist at death, at longing for victory over that grave, not just the sort you sing about but the sort you see... the sort where people you miss are suddenly with you once more, as everyone laughs at a death that is not nearly as powerful as it pretends to be.

I think that this antiphon is God's people sticking up a big middle finger at all the things that seem to destroy us, that seem to destroy those we love. I think this antiphon is God's people longing for God's power to come so that they can final tell of that menace of death... so that they don't have to say goodbye once more.

Because every year I'm a priest I find funerals to be a more emotional part of my ministry. Every year I grow closer to my parishioners and letting them go because that much harder.

So I gotta trust, I gotta believe, that what my people tell me is true: life is changed not ended. I gotta believe that there will come a day when I'll finally slip my hand inside that of each person I love who has slipped away and whisper a tearful hello.

And I wonder, beloved of God, who comes to your mind in these final days of Advent, as the feast of the Nativity approaches? When you consider Satan's tyranny finally being overthrown, when you contemplate the tantalizing promise of victory over even the grave, that no relationship we have will ever be fully destroyed that all will be redeemed... when you consider this Advent truth, who comes to your mind?

I hope you'll introduce me to them when we all meet on the other side of the Jordan. I think we'd get along grand.

O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree,
free them from Satan's tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save, 
and give them victory o'er the grave.

1 comment:

  1. I think of my parents. It would probably not surprise anyone that I think often of my mother, since she left this world just two years ago. But I also think often of my dad, and he has been gone for an astonishing 39 years. I thought of him often even before his portrait traveled from my sister's house to mine a year ago, for his presence and his death both had a profound impact on my life.
    Thank you for these words, Jared!